I must admit, the year of some lord two-thousand and ten was not a year of super-frequent cinema attendance as usual from yours truly, with a decent portion of my new release watches viewed at home, in-flight and, in the case of two Top 10 entries, last year at the London Film Festival. Nevertheless, here is a countdown of the ten films that really got me during the past twelve months – plus a rundown of some of the other titles that piqued my interest. Woweee!
10. ENTER THE VOID
Gaspar Noe’s follow-up to the incredible/incredibly upsetting Irreversible is a true cinematic experience. The packed opening night screening I went to at the Curzon Soho was the special extra-long version (160 mins) with Noe introducing, And yes there were a fair few walk-outs, which led me to wonder why anyone there paying to see it on opening night at a sold-out screening of an extended version with the director failed to understand what they were getting themselves in for. I couldn't tell if they were bored or disgusted. Probably both.
Much like Antichrist was a mix of the stunning and the silly, so to does Enter the Void create an atmosphere unlike anything else - it's languid, hypnotic, and dreamy, yet also uncomfortable, seedy, and garish.
If the story itself is peculiarly simplistic, albeit mixing the past, present, and afterlife, one could argue that it's a case of style over substance, but in many ways, the style is the narrative - without the camerawork and special effects creating the sense of the POV of afterlife, there'd really be no sense in telling the story.
It is an exhausting watch, following mostly unlikeable self-destructive characters for over 2 and a half hours of despair and pretentiousness, and no amount of visual trickery and incredible shots over neon cityscapes will make the content within anymore palatable. With all the swooping and soaring, there's a very real threat the camera's going to disappear up the director's arse at any time - and it certainly comes close (though there is a neat meta gag too). Therefore, not everyone's cup of tea. But in summation...
Profound? Hardly. Ludicrous? Absolutely. But one hell of a trip? Definitely.
9. THE ROAD
This year’s Children of Men in that it’s been all but forgotten, ignored by all the awards and industry back-slappers, which is a shame, as it’s a very well-made adaptation. Perhaps it lacks tension and surprise if you are familiar with the source material, but its curious blend of bleakness and hope translates perfectly to the screen thanks to a fine cast and crew. Full review nyah.
8. BLACK DYNAMITE
While mainstream Hollywood sags and flags in its poorly-received attempts at the comedy spoof, it was superior sequel OSS 117: Lost in Rio and this sterling independent effort from Scott Sanders and lead Michael Jai White that proved the subgenre can still produce the goods when treated with care and attention. Wonderful music, cracking dialogue and lots of smack getting laid down. There are lulls in the jokes, when it just lets the flavour its trying to recreate speak for itself but when Black Dynamite hits, I laughed louder and harder than in any recent film. Destined to become a cult classic.
7. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
David Fincher regains his mojo after the over-egged, over-long, over-sentimental, over-everything Benjamin Button with an engaging, sparky snapshot of modern history in the making. A movie about Facebook starring Justin Timberlake sounded like an awful prospect, but by letting the story (or at least the differing accounts of the same story) speak for itself, it becomes a gripping account of how events not only changed the lives of the protagonists but, by extension, my life and the lives of the majority of those who went to see The Social Network. Maybe the Battleship film with Rihanna won’t be bad after all, right? Right?
In any case, it’s probably the one of the big award front-runners and if it snatches top prize, it deserves it – excessive CG ice-breath and misjudged trip to merry old England notwithstanding.
6. FOUR LIONS
Chris Morris is a genius. That has been established before. But Four Lions is still a great achievement even based on his past pedigree. Both achingly funny and achingly sad, it rises above any controversies that could have easily been levelled against it with its well-judged tone and three-dimensional characters.
5. AIR DOLL
Not actually released yet in the UK (and a 2009 release to boot, so I don’t even know what rules I’m following any more), but what sounds like the set-up for a goofy Hollywood sex comedy (inflatable doll comes to life) is in fact in the hands of director Hirokazu Koreeda (director of Nobody Knows and Still Walking) one of the most moving and strangely beautiful films I have seen in a long time, and certainly one of the best to come out of Japan in a while. "Sex Toy Story" may be a glib throwaway summation at first, but it certainly mirrors some of that franchise's melancholy, and themes of abandonment and neglect, with elements of Pinocchio and Amelie as well. At times funny, at times unsettling, at times poignant, Air Doll is buoyed by an exquisite central performance from Korean actress Bae Doona (The Host, Linda Linda Linda, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), with wonderful music from one of my favourite Japanese musicians, World's End Girlfriend. Ultimately, it's a 21st century fairytale about the loneliness of modern society, the objectification of women, and the nature of humanity.
While some film-makers are happy to play around with heroes and villains, goodies and baddies, black and white, Bong Joon-ho once again proves that you can still create a satisfying piece of work where nothing is clear-cut or necessarily what it seems. And the director of Memories of Murder and The Host delivers his best work to date with a constantly surprising tale of a mother (the wonderful Kim Hye-ja) seeking justice when her son is arrested. From its arrestingly odd opening onwards, it’s a low-key but stunning film that is hard to shake, months and months after my first viewing.
3. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
2010 was the year of Scott Pilgrim. Well, the box office would clearly think differently, but for geeks, it was a chance to see the film, play the game, buy the soundtrack and, most importantly, read that flaming final chapter in the comic book saga. And of course, the only reason I picked up the comics in the first place is because it was announced Edgar Wright was to direct it - without the film, I wouldn't have read the books, as I'm not a big comics reader. Same with Watchmen. So ultimately in my eyes, the film is just a happy bonus at the end of what was a very good (but by no means perfect) series of graphic novels. Still, as a fan of the comics, my final thoughts?
In adapting the film, it's clear a decision was made that in the running time you wouldn't be able to have all the character development, emotional weight and narrative arcs of the books, as well as all the fights, video-game references, and music, so they sidelined a fair amount of former in favour of the latter, which was the better decision, as it's the more visceral exciting stuff which is more cinematic and is more of 'the hook' of the comic.
There is perhaps too much sidelining of character (largely with the other members of Sex Bob-omb at the expense of the less interesting Stacey - though strangely, Young Neil emerges as one of the most rounded of the additional cast), and it would've been nicer for a few more scenes to allow the story to breathe a little. But really, if I was going to the cinema to see a Scott Pilgrim movie, I'd want to see fights and video-game references and music, and if it also managed to capture just some of the emotional noodling, episodes of self-doubt, and getting it together of the original material (which I think it did), then all the better for it.
I was concerned about Cera, but while I don't think his portrayal is exactly comic-book Scott, I think he is a fine actor, and didn't rely so much on his weedy insecure persona (except when the jokes demanded it). It probably means in the long run, I can re-read the comics and not think of Cera, and ultimately, appreciate both as separate entities, even if the development of both mediums were concurrent and shared material with one another.
In fact, I was more originally concerned about Edgar's direction, after the rather shoddy and poorly edited action sequences in (the admittedly lower budgeted) Hot Fuzz, but I think he really came on leaps and bounds as a director of both action and comedy, and I loved all the little visual clues (the repeated numbers, love-hearts and X's) that always mark his work as distinctive from the rest of today's workmanlike comedy directors.
Ultimately, it's a rich, vibrant approximation of the world of Scott Pilgrim - because of the material, you'd only be able to make a very good film, rather than a truly great one, and I feel that's what has been achieved. Hence, it’s the Todd Ingram of my Top 10.
Like five great films wrapped into one awesome one, there’s not a great lot else to say about Inception that hasn’t already been said elsewhere at great length by everyone. What I will say though to all the haters and backlashers…fuck you. Yes, you. Fuck you very much. Quit your whining, your complaining, your bitching. No-one deserves a film quite this good. Not you, not I, not anyone. Christopher Nolan adapted The Prestige, rebooted Batman and remade Insomnia – feel free to bring those to task for not living up to their original material if you so wish. But Inception is an original piece of work and your hang-ups are not justified. Stop moaning about how it’s not like what dreams are like, or it’s not weird enough, or the ending undermines the rest of the film, or the characters aren’t interesting or whatever little thought occurs to you today. Rest assured, the film is EXACTLY how it is meant to be, a work of a director with a singular and uncompromised vision. If you didn’t like it, just say you didn’t like it. But don’t take all the enjoyment out of those who did like it by waffling on about how it’s not as big and clever as it thinks it is. Go watch fucking Transformers 2 and Sex and the City 2 instead then, you pissing cockpockets.
1. THE BAD LIEUTENANT – PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS
Full review nyah, but suffice to say, Nicolas Cage is astonishing, wild and unhinged, a moral black hole, snorting and smoking his way through a murder investigation without a care in the world. It's surprisingly light and breezy, with little sermonising or counterpoint to his wicked ways, just copious amounts of substance abuse and filthy language. Hysterically funny, it's like Bad Santa with a badge and a gun.
That’s the pick of the bunch, but honourable mentions must also go to a triple Adrian Brody fix of the long overdue The Brothers Bloom, worthy follow-up Predators and the commendably weird Splice. Plus, there was the fun Whip It, the ripe and juicy Shutter Island, the spiky yet sweet I Love You Phillip Morris, the nice and neat Cemetary Junction, the atmospheric Winter's Bone, the surprising Exit Through the Gift Shop, the dark and disturbing Dogtooth, the darker and disturbinger The Killer Inside Me, and the exhilirating Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. And let's not forget scary sequel [REC] 2, silly sequel and reason why 3D can be good #1 Jackass 3D, and sorta sequel and reason why 3D can be good #2 Piranha 3D. And the reconstructed and remastered Metropolis was a highlight.
Mild disappointments included Monsters, Toy Story 3, Up in the Air and Kick-Ass, which were not really as super-awesome as the press enjoyed saying they were. More disappointing but somewhat expected I guess were video-game vapidnesses Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D ( a step-up from the other sequels maybe, but, honestly...) and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, which given the budget, cast and crew should have been at least fun, but was just plain boring.